Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The incredible case of the mystery ingredient: ragweed.

After I had Exton and started breastfeeding him, the first six weeks or so were pretty brutal. We got lots of help from the Kaiser lactation consultants but I struggled. Somebody recently said to me, "Dude, it seems like you've had a lot of difficulty." Well, yeah. That comment made me think about what I'm doing, and how and why I'm doing it, but I'm not going to talk about that today. The point is, it was hard but I continued. It was important to me so I didn't give up.
This has not exactly been my approach to most things in the past. Still, I never (obviously) had a baby before, either, so I have a feeling lots of changes like this will occur in the future. Anyway, at the very beginning, it was recommended to me by the lactation consultant I saw at Kaiser that I start taking two supplements: one called More Milk Special Blend, and fenugreek. More Milk Special Blend is just what it says - a formulation of different herbs that are meant to stimulate milk production. Fenugreek is a single herb (it's also in More Milk Special Blend).

At around the six or seven week point, I was pretty stressed. I had a lot of pain and just couldn't get the baby to latch right when it was just me and him (at the Kaiser lactation office, he did it like a pro, but at home we were a mess). He wasn't scrawny and his pediatrician was OK with his weight but I was worried he wasn't getting enough to eat. And oh man, the pain. I kept reading "if it hurts something isn't right" but I didn't know what else I was supposed to do about it. I watched videos and called the La Leche League. I used the nipple cream*. I read my Womanly Art of Breastfeeding book. I emailed Dr. Newman (and "he" responded!). I kept trying. At the advice of a friend, I met with a private lactation consultant (her name was Ellen Steinberg, and she is amazing. I highly recommend her) and she got me all straightened out... but then right after meeting with her, there was the episode of the Stupid Abscess, and though we were now latching perfectly, I had another thing to deal with. The Stupid Abscess made me angry and I'm so glad that's over.

Anyway, all that to say is, through all of this, like a good girl, I continued taking fenugreek and More Milk Special Blend.

For the last three weeks or so, I've had a pretty bad rash all over my body. It's been sort of coming and going, but then on Saturday, it decided to hit my face. It's a red rash kind of like a faint sunburn, but itchy, and slightly raised. Even my eyebrows were itchy. After avoiding it (even though I was told it was safe to take), on Saturday night I finally took a Benadryl so I could get some sleep - so Patrick could get some sleep (I kept asking him to rub my back).

Then I started thinking about this rash, and how I've actually had problems with my skin for longer than 3 weeks: this has been ongoing since Ex's birth. I've just been dealing with it because I've had skin issues (eczema) and allergies my whole life -  at first it didn't feel much different from that. But the face thing bothered me. It felt elevated. There was something else going on other than my usual allergies, or post-partum hormone weirdness.

What were the things that changed? Well, I had a baby. Other than that... OH - what about these herbal supplements? It seems so obvious, doesn't it? Well, what can I say? I'm slow.

Yesterday morning I called up the company that I get my More Milk Special Blend from (Motherlove), and to my surprise, a real person answered ("Hello, Motherlove!"). I wasn't expecting to get someone on the phone that quickly, and that one little thing impressed me so much. I talked to Judith, and she listened to me about my rash. Then we started talking about the ingredients in More Milk Special Blend. Well, one of them is blessed thistle. She identified blessed thistle as a member of the ragweed family.

Well, hey, you know what? I'm allergic to ragweed. And here I've been ingesting it, four times a day, for close to 7 months. No wonder I have a rash. No wonder I have the worst rash I've ever had!**

Judith and I decided that it would be OK for me to discontinue the More Milk Special Blend. I'm going to just take Goat's Rue (one of the ingredients in More Milk Special Blend; "the magic ingredient," as I've heard it called). I'm going to continue taking fenugreek, too. I was worried about quitting both because I have read that if you take these supplements and then stop suddenly, you can see a decrease in milk supply, and I really don't want to risk that.

I had a previously scheduled appointment with the dermatologist (to follow up on another issue I've been having), and I discussed with her my blessed thistle theory. She thought it sounded plausible, and agreed that stopping the More Milk Special Blend would probably clear up my rash in a couple days. God, I hope so.

* People with eczema are advised not to use lanolin products on the skin, as this can cause an outbreak. I just found this out yesterday from my dermatologist.

** The rash doesn't look as bad as you might think it does, from my description. But being itchy and red is no fun, especially when it's your face. Believe me. It kind of sucks. I mean, I'm already feeling fat, my hair is jacked up because the hair that fell out when Ex was three months old is now growing in, and all that baby hair around my hairline makes me look like a little monkey with a mullet; it's not a nice feeling. I can't really do anything about my hair (though I could about feeling fat!) so if I can help my skin out, I'll do it!

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